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I have a strong aversion to having edits applied to my work without my approval. Because of that, I don't do that to what others have written.

So what should be done with obviously wrong answers? I really don't want to edit them; that goes very much against my personal principles. I don't mind fixing an obvious typo or poor choice of wording. But fundamentally changing what a person wrote? That is just wrong to me.

Why I don't like unapproved revisions:
Long ago I had a very bad experience at work in that regard. Our team had spent over a year doing an analysis for NASA. We wrote that work up in a multi-volume white paper that used extravehicular activities (EVAs) as a central, organizing theme. Corporate HQ decided our white paper needed external review because the distribution list had some very high level people on it. Their editor didn't think that "extravehicular" was a word and changed every occurrence of "extravehicular activity" to "activity with extra vehicles" (and then he changed the acronym to AEV). He then sent the "corrected" paper straight to the printer because "except for a few minor grammatical errors, the paper was very good." He turned our report into a joke.

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  • $\begingroup$ Related: meta.physics.stackexchange.com/q/5995 $\endgroup$ – Kyle Kanos Jul 30 '14 at 13:43
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    $\begingroup$ Frankly, I'm surprised that anyone connected to a report that's intended to go to NASA (even an external editor) wouldn't know what EVA is. I'm further surprised that upon seeing this term the editor wouldn't have done a 10 second google search to see if it was a piece of jargon or a commonly used term. I'm even further surprised that an external editor wouldn't recognize that as a word. Any professional editor worth his salt should know how to recognize and understand common prefixes used in technical terms like "extra-" $\endgroup$ – Jim Aug 1 '14 at 13:53
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    $\begingroup$ @Jim - That happened in the late 1980s. The world wide web didn't exist then, nor did browsers or search engines. Google wouldn't be founded for another ten years. We had email plus a bunch of various arcane protocols, all of which except email have all gone the way of the dodo. It was a different world back then. $\endgroup$ – David Hammen Aug 1 '14 at 14:21
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I think that edits of another user's post should be reserved for

  1. typographical errors (e.g., grammar, LaTeX formatting)
  2. adding/modifying relevant links (e.g., updating broken links)
  3. word choices (e.g., using liquids as a generalized replacement for fluids)

These edits are minor, changing the superficial appearance while leaving alone the content.

Edits that turn an incorrect answer into a correct one is a drastic change and should not be done by anyone. Leaving a comment about why the answer is incorrect and downvoting are the correct response to seeing bad answers.

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  • $\begingroup$ I had a tough choice choosing between these answers. I chose this one because of your use of the word "drastic". $\endgroup$ – David Hammen Jul 30 '14 at 14:30
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    $\begingroup$ I would just add that it's possible (though rare) that an obvious typo is all that makes the difference between a wrong answer and a correct one, especially if it's a typo in a formula, and in that case fixing the typo is a good edit to make. $\endgroup$ – David Z Jul 30 '14 at 16:12
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    $\begingroup$ This answer does not accurately represent the Stack Exchange philosophy as a whole. See meta.stackexchange.com/a/194522/147335 for more details, nor with the physics.stackexchange FAQ, which states "to correct minor mistakes or add addendums / updates as the post ages" If something is factually incorrect, but only for a minor reason, it should be edited. $\endgroup$ – corsiKa Dec 4 '14 at 18:05
  • $\begingroup$ @corsiKa: What? How? Giles' answer says basically the same thing as mine: fundamentally flawed = downvote & comment (basically my last paragraph); minor flaw = edit (superficial appearances). $\endgroup$ – Kyle Kanos Dec 4 '14 at 18:20
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    $\begingroup$ No, it's not. An answer can be made to be factually incorrect because of a minor mistake. It would not be superficial because it turns it from an incorrect answer to a correct answer. But it would still be minor, because you aren't changing very much in terms of volume. Case in point, this question. according to this answer I was in the wrong to edit. According to Giles' answer, I was in the right. $\endgroup$ – corsiKa Dec 4 '14 at 18:34
  • $\begingroup$ @corsiKa: I'd say your edit falls under 3. word choices as a superficial change. You didn't actually change a factually incorrect answer into a correct one, you changed the wording so as to make it more clear (something Giles & I agree on)--your edit statement even says you're making it more clear! $\endgroup$ – Kyle Kanos Dec 4 '14 at 18:44
  • $\begingroup$ Note also that DavidZ's upvoted comment does correctly point out that changing a typographical error can be considered a minor edit and change a wrong answer into a correct one, so you're kinda beating a dead horse here. $\endgroup$ – Kyle Kanos Dec 4 '14 at 18:46
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Low-reputation users whose edits go into the approval queue see an edit page with a box of advice like this:

How to Edit

► fix grammatical or spelling errors

► clarify meaning without changing it

► correct minor mistakes

► add related resources or links

► always respect the original author

I think that these instructions are consistent with your instincts about editing.

The right response to a wrong answer, as I understand it, is to downvote, comment, and/or post a correct answer.

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  • $\begingroup$ With respect to links, I don't really see any point in edits that add links to wikipedia articles only. $\endgroup$ – Bernhard Aug 1 '14 at 19:23
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    $\begingroup$ @Bernhard I think those edits are useful when the question uses a term that many people are likely to be unfamiliar with. Of course the people for whom the question is most directly relevant will already know the term, but a good portion of our traffic comes from people who are idly curious, and if they can easily click a link to read something that will allow them to understand the question, that's a good thing. $\endgroup$ – David Z Aug 1 '14 at 20:40

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